Down to the sea

Barbara Dyer: Camden’s wooden boat builders were perfectionists

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 10:15pm

All the wooden boats built over the centuries in Camden could not have been completed without many skilled workers. It took master builders, skilled workers, office staff and yard owners, and all were perfectionists.

One of the best known builders was Holly Bean, who had his yard in Camden where Wayfarer Marine is today.

He was known as the most successful builder on the Atlantic Coast. He worked first for John Dailey at the head of the harbor in 1870 to build a brig. He then went to Tenants Harbor with Mr. Dailey to help build a three-masted schooner, which was a new style at that time. Next he  built nine vessels with Whitney Long, of Tenants Harbor, before returning to Camden in 1873 to work with Capt. Isaac Coombs.

Bean’s yard was at the head of the harbor, where the Camden Public Library land is today. Then, he started his own yard two years later. He built the second four-masted schooner, John B. Prescott, which launched in January 1899, and was the first of the five masted in the world.

The George W. Wells was launched in August 1900.

John Wardwell was designer for many of Bean’s boats. Most of the vessels were built for Capt. John G. Crowley, who was manager of the Coastwise Transportation Company. Coastwise transported coal to the New England states.

Holly Bean retired from business in 1909, after building 51 vessels in his yard. In total, he had worked on the construction of 71 boats. The launchings were of great excitement and entertainment for Camden.

His son, Robert L. Bean, took over boat-building when his father’s shipyard closed. There were no buildings, workers nor tools and people said it couldn’t be done. He built and launched schooners from 1916 to 1920. He went for contracts wherever he could get one.  The first built, Percy R. Pyne II, had no colors flying when it was launched. That had people talking.

Later, 10 German men came to install a German engine. Camden believed the yard became a” commerce raider.”

The other nine had some local captains and American owners. Many people looked forward to the launching celebrations at his yard. Schooners were going out and steam engines were coming in. So that ended his career.

In 1941, Cary Bok, Richard Lyman and Clinton Lunt bought that property and started up a yard where the Beans had been. They built for the war effort. John Gamage was yard superintendent and master builder.  At one time, they had 1,500 employees in that yard and had to have two shifts.

They built vessels for four years for the U.S. and for Britain on the Lend Lease Program. It was a booming time for Camden. The young men had gone to war and older men came from all around, but it still was not enough workers. So they advertised that they would even hire women, many of whom came to be painters and bungers. One could not get in the gate until they checked in with the guard, and the workers punched time cards, in and out.

It took 50 women in the payroll department, alone. Henry Bickford was the personnel manager. After the World War II ended, Camden Shipbuilding and Marine Railways Co. came to a close.

Cary Bok and William E. Peterson started Camden Shipbuilding Co., Inc., and hired one of the finest master builders around, Malcolm H. Brewer. After his tour of duty, Capt. Petersen had liked Camden so much that he came back to custom-build pleasure yachts and fishing vessels with Bok.

That shipyard built vessels until 1963.

Some yacht owners had their own naval architect, but Geerd N. Hendel was the in-house naval architect. Because custom-built wooden yachts, like anything hand-made, cost a lot to be perfect, the yard was losing money on contracts. So the yard went out of business and later sold it to Tom and Arthur Watson. It became Wayfarer Marine Co., and provided storage, repairs and services.

Cannell’s Boat Yard remained, as well as some one-man wooden builders. Then, the age of fiberglass boats began.

Barbara F. Dyer has lived in Camden all of her life, so far.

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